Graduate student hopes to help improve standards

In 2019, CSA Group launched its Graduate Scholarship Program to support students enrolled in a Master’s program whose research is related to standards. In this series, we would like to introduce the five students who have been awarded the 2020 scholarship and tell you how their research can contribute to a better understanding of standards and their advancement.

Selfie of Jian Zhu in a hard hat, on-site.Standards are living documents continually evolving and improving in response to new technologies, processes, and knowledge. And everyone can potentially contribute to those improvements, even students. That is one of the major things Jian Zhu has learned, thanks to the CSA Group Graduate Scholarship Program.

Jian is a Master’s student at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering. Enrolled in the Civil Engineering program, she really enjoyed her undergraduate structural engineering courses delivered by Dr. Nigel Shrive. No wonder she reached out to him to discuss the CSA Group Graduate Scholarship opportunity she learned about from the university’s student center. Dr. Shrive, a long-time CSA Group volunteer member, has been active in the development of standards related to masonry and shear design for many years. He was more than happy to take on Jian as a Master’s student and help her select a research topic for the scholarship proposal.

Jian did not know much about standards, but shear design caught her interest. More specifically, she decided to focus on the in-plane shear strength and resistance of masonry walls and the areas where she felt the current standard, CSA S304-14, Design of masonry structures, required improvements.

To ensure structural safety, buildings have to be designed in a way to resist external loads, as well as the effects of their usage, Jian explains. To provide resistance to in-plane lateral forces, such as winds and earthquakes, civil engineers employ shear walls as a structural element to improve the stiffness and survival of a building. CSA S304-14 offers guidance to determine wall resistance. However, recent research shows that “current provisions in codes and standards may overestimate the in-plane shear strength” of some types of masonry, resulting in less than ideal predictions of wall strength and wall resistance.

I imagine the smartest and most knowledgeable people are working together to make the standards better. I hope my contribution could help advance the standard for the design of masonry structures. How exciting is that for a student!”

– Jian Zhu, Master’s Student, University of Calgary

Jian’s goal is to find the right parameters for the masonry walls so that civil engineers can predict the resistance more accurately for future designs. She hopes these changes will be incorporated into the next edition of CSA S304.

As the first step of her project, Jian has been looking at published research on the subject and studying how other standards from Australia, New Zealand, China, Europe, and the USA deal with this issue. She finds it fascinating how differently the standards could be defined, reflecting different approaches, conditions, even traditions in different countries. This made her realize that often, standards have to be adapted to the specifics of the region. So before getting to any experimental work, Jian wants to develop a framework for how the shear design should be addressed in the Canadian context, with Canadian materials and Canadian construction forms.

Jian also learned that developing and amending standards involves stakeholders from different areas, including practicing engineers, producers, manufacturers, academia, and users. People across many industry sectors volunteer their time to contribute, working together to make the standard as robust as possible. And Dr. Shrive is confident that Jian can bring an important perspective to the discussion. He hopes she will present the results of her work to the CSA S304 committee, proposing a much more efficient way to address shear design within the safety limits required in the standard.

I would like to see students having a much greater appreciation of standards. I think it would be helpful if we could explain to students what the objectives of standards are, and that, as they become professionals in their field, they can participate in making standards better.”

– Dr. Nigel Shrive, University of Calgary

Jian imagines “…the smartest and most knowledgeable people are working together to make the standards better” and believes that her contribution could help advance the state of the art in this area. And still being a student, that thought is extremely exciting and thrilling.

Learn more about CSA Group’s Graduate Scholarship Program.


March 17, 2021